Emergency - New school rises from the Tsunami
By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
HAFUN, Somalia, December 2005 – Like an oasis, the new primary school in Hafun is a welcome sight amid the devastation still evident almost one year after the Indian Ocean tsunami.
With its bright blue roof, red columns and pristine white walls, the Hafun Community Learning Centre is an oasis of sorts. It is an area of hope and opportunity for both children and adults in this remote fishing village on a peninsula, ten hours drive from the town of Bossaso in northeast Somalia.
While a new housing settlement, an 18-room hospital and water and sanitation supply system are still under construction, the Learning Centre has already opened its doors. On Monday 14 November it welcomed over 300 pupils between the ages of six and 15, many of them attending school for the first time.
Bishara Said Musa, aged 11, was one of them. A seemingly shy girl, her determination and assertiveness become apparent as she relates how she came to join the school. “I used to stay at home and help take care of my brothers but when I heard about the new school from my friends I said to my grandmother ‘The other children are going to school. I want to go to school too.“
Bishara is now enrolled in primary school along with her brothers Abdullah, aged seven, and Sahal, aged six. “When I grow up I would like to be a teacher so that I can educate others,” she says. “I would like to learn and improve my life. And I would like to go to other places to see what is happening in other parts of the world and share it with my people.”
Ahmed, aged 10, is another newcomer to school. He had spent the early part of the morning at the water’s edge collecting, cutting and skewering fish from landing boatmen. “My mother said ’Go to the beach and get fish and then you can go to school’.”
Asked if he wants to become a fisherman, he shakes his head vigorously: an emphatic ‘No.’ He too wants to be a teacher. Right now, he’s looking forward to learning mathematics and how to read and write in English and Somali.
The Centre is built on land donated by the community. At a cost just over $65,000, it was constructed by the community with funds contributed by the US Fund for UNICEF and the UK Committee for UNICEF. The Centre includes six classrooms, an office, a storeroom, boys’ and girls’ latrines, a meeting hall and a large playground. It is furnished throughout with new desks and benches and equipped with teaching and learning materials, including textbooks, chalk boards, slates and dustless chalk.
An education grant from the European Commission enables each enrolled child to receive a distinctive school bag containing five exercise books, a pen and pencil. The bags proclaim in Somali: ‘Education for Every Child’.
Soon the Centre will also host evening classes in adult literacy and its meeting hall will be available for community gatherings and as a teachers’ resource centre. This is a vast improvement on the two-room school which existed in Hafun before the tsunami, with an enrolment of only 50 students.
Even while the Centre was under construction, some 340 Hafun children pre-enrolled for entry to the primary school: a seven-fold enrolment increase. The figure is now likely to top 500 as children from surrounding areas and from nomadic families seek to join. In order to accommodate everyone, the Centre will shortly introduce a shift system with morning and afternoon sessions. At that time, the number of teachers - six at present - will also increase. All will have benefited from UNICEF-supported teacher training conducted in Hafun.
A seven-member Community Education Committee (CEC) manages the Centre. Fatuma Mohamed Abdullahi is one of two females selected by elders in the community to serve on the committee. She could hardly contain her elation when the Centre finally opened. “We thank all those who supported this project. We never expected to have such a fancy school.”
Fatuma (whose three children are also enrolled at the school) makes it her job to tell others in the community about the benefits of education. “The advantages are countless when a person is educated. Ignorance is the enemy of life. In ignorance you cannot support yourself properly. I tell parents to bring all their children to school so that they will be able to support themselves.”
The new Hafun Community Learning Centre lies at the foot of a hill that last year provided the only refuge from the advancing tsunami. One year later, that hill provides a wonderful vantage point from which to see the result of a successful collaboration between the community and international partners to build back better - and bigger - than before. For the first time in many months the people of Hafun have something they can all celebrate: the opening of their ‘fancy’ new school.